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The Psalm of Existence ©

by Shrikrishna D Pandit
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Photo 2The sky is clear and bright, like a skull that has been roasted to a shine in the sun; and under it, the ocean stands motionless.

The ocean is perfectly still.

In the wildfire of the scorching sun, every single thing appears seared and lifeless. To one side, a part of the ocean stretches to the horizon, but not a ripple moves on its impassive surface. The discoloured sprawl has the appearance of a dead body of water, its remains lying forlorn and exposed to the elements. On its shore, rocks of dried-up salt lie scattered in places; but on their desolate slopes, not a drop of shade can survive, even for a moment. At many places the wind has eroded them into grotesque shapes. Some them have forms that are almost human – accursed ones who have seen forbidden sights and brought curses upon themselves. At some places the hills are seen reflected in the water. The sea bears the images, caring not if they are ornamental designs or leper’s blemishes. The ocean is absolutely undisturbed.

Along the other side of the waters, parched sand stretches to the horizon. In that endless expanse there is not a sign of stunted vegetation, not even a blade of grass, dried up and shriveled into a yellow line. The wind, invisible, roams in gentle waves of heat, as if the still-hungry soul of the hot shimmering ocean is wandering in the desert. Its movement constantly disturbs the patterns in the sand and the entire landscape seems tense and still, waiting breathlessly for some climactic event.

One place in the desert is home to a different kind of whiteness. Scattered there are skeletons of giant prehistoric animals with skulls large as hillocks. The heat pouring down from above wears away their strength till the moment when the massive shapes, blindly buffeted by the wind, crumple into dust and are lost in the sand. In this lifeless region, this change of form is the only sign of life seen on the surface. The shapes of the salt rocks change and with them, their reflections in the water. But the sea is unaware if it is a new joy or merely a fresh sting of an old hurt.

The sea is utterly unfeeling.

The shapes of the salt rocks change and with them, their reflections in the water. But the sea is unaware if it is a new joy or merely a fresh sting of an old hurt.

But one day, a speck was seen on the horizon and very slowly took shape as it crept closer. After a great length of time, marks appeared in the sand that were different from the waves etched by the wind. After a while, the old man reached the heap of skeletons. His still-hungry eyes still showed what others look upon as madness — the glint seen in the eyes of someone who, in the monotonous sunlight all around, is able to see his own star shining brilliantly. His body was dried up — like the sticks offered in the sacrificial fire and against its background his white beard was looking like cloth made of a thousand jewels. Tired in body and mind, he looked at the heap of bones. One of the gigantic skulls was still intact. The eyes, once like deep pools, were gone and in their place empty sockets stood like twin caverns. The large teeth that had once decimated enemies with ease now looked dull and lifeless, like a meaningless couplet written in the alphabet of death. The old man entered the skull and the shade inside comforted his body. He sat down contentedly resting his palms on his knees, closed his eyes and with a focused mind, began contemplating the mystery of existence and creation.

The eyes, once like deep pools, were gone and in their place empty sockets stood like twin.

The flaming rays of the sun carried on their mission relentlessly. At last the skull was at the end of its endurance. A crack appeared on it like the manifestation of death and, with a last sound, it crumpled into fragments and scattered over the sand. The scorching heat now descended onto the old man’s feeble body; but he took no notice. His arms
remained steady and his contemplation undisturbed. But his zeal finally proved unequal to the aggressive heat of the sun. His frail form collapsed on the sand and his eyes, which had seen a flower in the root growing from the soil and in the flower, the soil that nurtured the roots, gave way to spheres of darkness.

The heavy grey curtain of the ocean is immobile. The rocks, assured of their existence by the reflections in its waters, stand cold and aloof.

The ocean is purely an observer.

There was brief movement where water met sand. The sand was disturbed and a thumb-sized crustacean emerged. But one touch of the inferno outside sent it scurrying blindly, as fast as its little legs could move, to the old man’s skull. As it entered the shade, the heat clinging to its carapace went down and the terror left its eyes. Folding its legs, it settled in a corner.

The old man’s skull cracked and its remains dispersed in the sand. The pebble-like armour of the creature suddenly heated up and its legs burst before they could start moving. Now there was movement nearby, in the sand below a piece of bone. An ant emerged partially. Its eyes were tiny as points of a thorn dipped in kohl; but they were quick enoughto serve the small life they served. The ant made its way into the body of the creature and found comfort in a moist corner.

Somewhere, an even smaller life-form is waiting.

But one touch of the inferno outside sent it scurrying blindly, as fast as its little legs could move, to the old man’s skull.

The expanse of the sea stands still. In the salt rocks on the shore, lifeless forms are born; give rise to their own reflections; but the sea remains unaffected. It has no flow and therefore, no ebb. It has no burst of creation and therefore, no dissolution of death. It has no fear of death, therefore the ocean of non-life is immortal.

And for it alone, there is no contemplation, for its contemplation has reached its end.

Now the ocean merely is.

[The Psalm of Existence is a translation of the author G A Kulkarni’s Marathi story ‘अस्तिस्तोत्र’ by Shrikrishna D Pandit. The Marathi story originally appeared in GA’s collection ‘Sanjshakun,’ and was published by Popular Prakashan, Mumbai in 1998.]

Shrikrishna D Pandit
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